Rutgers 101: Why WSU holds matchup advantages

RUTGERS TOOK CARE of business against Norfolk State but their 2015 season has been as tumultuous as the Cougars’. Before we get into any of that, let's just zero in on the game itself -- and at the matchups in particular. And therein are some positives. As bad as things went last Saturday for Washington State, the Cougars' strengths do match up nicely against Rutgers' weaknesses.

This has to be mentioned up top: Rutgers coach Kyle Flood in a few short weeks has been embroiled in an academic manipulation scandal, the starting quarterback got caught with a fake ID and five players were arrested and thrown off the team on various aggravated assault, riot, home invasion and burglary charges. The media calls for his firing haven't lessened after a blowout win in Week 1. The situation in Piscataway remains one hot mess.

Hopefully for Cougar fans, the tumult is something the Cougs can take advantage of -- because the WSU football program has never been in greater need of a win since Mike Leach arrived in Pullman.

Cougars (0-1) vs Scarlett Knights (1-0)
12:30 pm Pacific Time

High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454)


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WSU minus-2 (WSU opened minus-5 ½)

Rutgers won 41-38 in the team’s first and only meeting last year.

Rutgers leads 1-0.

Cougs 38, Rutgers 34


Players to Know
QBs Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig: Laviano is expected to start against WSU. Rettig, an LSU transfer, won the QB competition by default after Laviano got caught with a fake ID two weeks ago, but Flood named him his starter for WSU, raising the eyebrows of many since Laviano threw just four passes in the opener. Both will likely see playing time.

Paul James and Josh Hicks, RB: Rutgers has a loaded backfield and it starts with James. The senior torched the Cougs for 173 yards and 3 touchdowns in Seattle last year. Hicks led the team with 118 rushing yards in Week 1.

Leonte Carroo, WR: Carroo remains a very serious threat to a young Cougar secondary after jump-starting the Rutgers offense last year against WSU with a 73-yard TD grab on the opening play. He still managed 129 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns against Norfolk State despite being suspended for the first half.

Rutgers still has some questions to answer on their offensive line and at quarterback, but all the pieces are there and you can expect Rutgers to run a lot if WSU plays the run like they did last week. O-coordinator Ralph Friedgen is gone but most of the elements of his pro-style offense remain. Last year the Knights ranked 69th in passing and 65th in rushing.

This a balanced offense with plenty of playmakers. Rutgers is unlikely to score another 63 points, but they are well equipped to exploit any defensive weakness they find. WSU needs to forget about last week and contain the run for all four quarters. They need to force Laviano to prove his worth and to make him uncomfortable. His hold on the quarterback job is tenuous at best and the Cougs could use that to their advantage. If they get heat on him early, he will likely to start to press. But they have to get pressure on him, and early.

Key Stat
RU passing last week: 13-of-15, 248 yards, four TDs: It was only Norfolk State, but the Rutgers quarterbacks passed their first test with flying colors.


Players to Know
Darius Hamilton, DE:Hamilton is by far Rutgers’ best player, but he’s been limited all fall with some type of leg injury. He can provide exactly the kind of consistent pass rush that gives the Air Raid fits. He did not play last week and remains questionable.

Steve Longa, LB: Longa was Rutgers’ leading tackler last year, tied for the team lead last week and is on the Lombardi watch list.

Defense was Rutgers’ weak point last year and offseason issues have compounded the problems, last week’s body bag opponent notwithstanding. Multiple starters have been booted, suspended or declared academically ineligible in recent weeks, leaving the Knights’ secondary, in particular, perilously thin.

Spread ‘em and shred ‘em. As heartening as it was to see the Cougs run the ball well in the first half against PSU, this matchup loudly calls for the Air Raid passing attack. WSU's depth at receiver should really wear the Knights down as it did last year, but the diversity of the Cougar pass catchers must be exploited as well with four Rutgers defensive backs booted, three of them having been projected starters.

Mike Leach has tall targets, burners, and other particular skill types which can be thrown at specific mismatches he identifies. Expect more than one WSU receiver to have big days, but it’s anyone's guess as to who they will be. If you pinned me down, I would say the probables include, but are not limited to, River Cracraft and Gabe Marks.

Key Stat
Rutgers held Norfolk to minus-three hashes on 23 carries. They probably feel confident enough in their rush defense to try and overcompensate on pass defense. That could allow Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and/or Keith Harrington to break a few, although for reasons stated above the game on offense should come down to how well the WSU passing attack fares.

Rutgers did not attempt a kick last week and only punted once, but returns all key specials teams players from last year.

I am eating a heaping pile of crow for discounting Portland State last week. The Cougs appear to have done the same, but beating Rutgers would go a long ways to getting the 2015 season back on track and restoring some hope. After what we all witnessed on Saturday, it is extremely difficult to favor the Cougs at this point -- but they do match up well with Rutgers weaknesses.

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